The sheer rapidity of technological change has given rise to a number of social and psychological problems. In the opinion of many people, this makes the modern world, for all its technological marvels, an uncomfortable and an unfulfilling place to live. As Robert Wright has pointed out recently, the rates of depression have been doubling in some industrial countries every ten years and suicide is the third most common cause of death among young adults in North America, after car accidents and homicides. Wright goes on to assert that pathological alienation is a hallmark of advanced and rich countries. The new technologies and their products, such as cars, refrigerators, television and suburbia are creating a growing feeling of social isolation and erosion of bonds of neighbourly interdependence.
There is a growing feeling that the modern acquisitive society often prevents human beings from cultivating the warm, affiliative side of human nature. And this feeling is no longer confined to people in the developed countries. It is fast spreading to poor countries, as they experience uncoordinated and unbalanced urbanisation and development.
In several countries, the growing feelings of insecurity, uncertainty and persistent social deprivation are contributing to the rise of religious fundamentalism of a perverse kind which claims an exclusive monopoly of knowledge and wisdom and emphasises rigid uniformity rather than harmony in a culturally pluralistic setting.
What are the true implications of these developments for the future of India? As I see it, we cannot disown the use of modern science and technology to improve the human conditions. Indeed, without a purposeful use of modern science and technology, we cannot get rid of chronic poverty, ignorance and disease, which still afflict millions of people in our country.
Thus we have to combine the use of science and technology with a new spiritual awakening so that increased material well being and leisure are not wasted in costly excitements catering to the needs of the body. To the contrary, they must, but become important means to rekindle the higher impulses, both for self-perfection and social reform, including reform of religious practices. This must be based on the dignity of the individual human being, compassion, tolerance, gentleness, truthfulness and non-violence. 11 September in USA, 13 December in New Delhi, the Godhra incident in Gujarat and recent carnages in Kashmir are grim reminders, coming as they did in a span of less than one year, of the self-inflicted pain and misery that we forcing an ourselves.
There is another issue about wealth, power and wisdom. Nehru had reflected :
“….What I am concerned with is not merely our material progress, but the quality and depth of our people. Gaining power through industrial process, will they lose themselves in the quest of individual wealth and soft living? That would be a tragedy for that would be a negation of what India has stood for in past and, I think, in the present time also as exemplified by Gandhi, power is necessary, but wisdom is essential. It is only power with wisdom that is good.”
Can we combine the progress of science and technology with this progress of the mind and spirit also? We cannot be untrue to science, because that represents the basic fact of life today. Still less can we be untrue to those essential principles for which India has stood in the past throughout the ages. Let us then remember that material riches without tolerance and compassion and wisdom may well turn to dust and ashes.
India can make a powerful contribution to the evolution of a truly universal human civilisation of the future, based both on reason and morality and a synthesis of science and spirituality. Einstein had probably this synthesis in mind when he stated that science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.